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BRAND

LADY GAGA – Lessons from the Youth BRAND Monster

The worst part about writing a post on Lady GAGA is that you have to listen to her music. Point being Lady Gaga is much more than a musician, more than even a performing artist. To realize how popular she is, start typing her name in the Google search bar, by the 3rd alphabet (the ‘d’ of ‘lad’) Google will throw up Lady GAGA as the top suggestion….surely it’s not just that peppy tune..

core of Gaga – “the musicality and showmanship of Michael Jackson, David Bowie and the powerful sexuality and provocative instincts of Madonna”.

She is in fact a carefully crafted and packaged phenomenon, the result of successful marketing meetings and product genius. Dissecting this spectacle, here are a few learnings from what Lady Gaga the brand is up to:

1. Positioning

Every marketer is going after young people, and everybody has the same profile of these young people. So everyone ends up sounding exactly the same as well. Vague. When what they really aspire to be is distinctively in vogue.
Professionally, Gaga is just a pop artist, like Britney Spears, Beyonce etc. Would you believe it, in her early years she even wrote songs for Britney Spears. Imagine Gaga’s education. She learnt what not to do not because it was not successful but because it was so successful that taking it on would have needed being born in another generation.

So she positioned herself as the anti diva, urban rock chic meets artist, meets philosopher and is a Lady in the most fixating way. The concoction was an unmistakable outlier and if all great brands have one thing in common, that is that they have nothing in common, they’re outliers.
Lady Gaga is an outlier who is positioned as an out and out pop rebel. This in spite of her music being the same, urban poetry, pop torrent – about love, love lost, parties, paparazzi, fame and blah, it’s been heavily dressed with Gaga. To fortify her position in the pop realm she works up serious dazzle on the packaging. Just like the irresistible Apple interface.
Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, the one’s below probably throw light on how her positioning has enabled her to stand out from the current crop of pop divas and be considered one of the most influential people in the world (as rated by Time and Forbes)

FROM

TO

“My ideas about fame and art are not brand new,” she says. “We could watch Paris is Burning [Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary about New York drag artists], we could read The Warhol Diaries. I guess you could say that I’m a bit of a Warholian copycat. I think the trick is to honour your vision and reference and put together things that have never been put together before.”

The result is that even the non-fan can’t ignore her. 9 of my 400 odd Facebook friends like her page (obviously, I’m judging them). So we thought we’d do a little one word test, TG speak if you please with a random set in India:

Brand Gaga has instant recall! Notice how contemporaries Katy Perry and Beyonce in spite of being vastly different are clubbed closer together in the minds of these people, Gaga stands tall and distinct! It doesn’t really matter that some people find her “unpleasant” and “strange”, but subliminally she clearly owns a distinct space in your head, one that has found resonance with millions around the world.

2. Living the Brand

It is one thing to theoretically position and another to execute, most companies can learn a thing or two from her. Everything from the costumes, to videos, to the stage performances are clearly in line with the carefully constructed outrageousness that is at the core of her positioning.

In her own words, “People say Lady Gaga is a lie, and they are right. I am a lie. And every day I kill to make it true. It’s the dream of my vision, it’s the lie that I tell, whether it’s an umbrella or it’s a hat or it’s the way that I shape my lipstick. And then eventually it becomes a reality”.

Living the Brand

Probably the best illustration of the lengths to which she goes to live brand Gaga is the popular belief that she never removes her fake eyelashes. “Whenever I have a lover I leave them in their apartment on the pillow, Kind of like a keepsake.” Even in her personal life, she goes to great lengths to keep the aura of Gaga going.
The same kind of effort goes into her videos, stage performances, public appearances and even her tweets. Believe it or not, she has her own creative production team called the Haus of Gaga. The Haus of Gaga is a collective that works on various projects for her, ranging from clothes to stage props. These different components come together to create that complete story that is the Gaga show.
“When I’m writing music, I’m thinking about the clothes I want to wear on stage. It’s all about everything altogether—performance art, pop performance art, fashion. For me, it’s everything coming together and being a real story that will bring back the super-fan. I want the imagery to be so strong that fans will want to eat and taste and lick every part of us.”

POSTER
@the gig
Bloody GAGA

Covering one such Monster Ball gig, Daniel Brockman of the Rolling Stones posted – “this round of Monster Ball gigs — based around a hunt for “the greatest” party of all time — is extra prop and glitter-heavy. Stage pieces included a subway car and a Bethesda Fountain, and a few gallons of fake blood oozed throughout the night”.

There is a huge learning here for brands. Many a time, the positioning that a brand wants to create gets limited to the advertisements that are aired on TV or worse to the PPTs that they are presented on to the CEO.
A company’s brand positioning must get reinforced in every interaction that a customer has with the company much like Gaga’s outrageousness gets reinforced in everything that she does. A walk in to a store, an interaction at a call center and an email statement are probably trivial when compared to TV ads and giant hoardings but if one is to create lasting brands, it is these “trivialities” really need to be addressed. Especially, because they can be personalized. Fake eyelashes anyone?

3. The fan lives next door,say hello

Even the best team and a great position aren’t enough till you warrant yourself the ability to reach out and pull in fans. Today, the audience is too abortive to buy into a constant, so even a Gaga must evolve as she reinforces. She keeps a close ear to the market, has 7,726,183 followers on twitter and growing. Her followers are called Little Monsters and she herself their Mother Monster. If the comments she receives are anything to go by she is a very influential artist.
She has direct access to all of these monsters whom she keeps charming with her pictures, project snippets, general philosophy etc. Due to her superstar status, promoting albums becomes much easier.

kickin it on twitter

Gaga on twitter and facebook:
Mons†ers have 6 Grammy Nominations + Billboard Award “Artist of the Year.” Thank you for fighting for artistic freedom + self-invention
Can’t hold back the tears+pride. We did it! Our voice was heard + today the Senate REPEALED DADT. A triumph for equality after 17 YEARS.
@LadyGaga is dead. Help bring her back to life by texting GAGA to 90999 to donate $10 to Keep a Child Alive. http://buylife.org
A MUGLER fashion film will be debuted in high quality later today, with the brilliant full menswear collection + the full remix of my song X.

Be it album promotions, upcoming shows or the causes she supports, all make their way to these updates. The Mother Monster addresses her Little Monsters, and lives as one among them.
Contrast this with brands in India, that are shying away from digital media at their own peril. Neither is it a fad nor is it frivolous, it’s just a new media which every brand DJ must mix in his media set. It’s also the fastest growing fastest reaching and the most trackable.
In the graphs below, even if you factor away the India handicap it would still indicate where the action is heading for the young TG

In spite of this, most brands in India are speaking 2 different languages on the web and off it.
Aren’t we fond of the Frooti Mango Surprise campaign or the Why Grow up piece, Sure. But they can ill afford to NOT GROW UP to online marketing. Their lack of online presence like that of many other youth brands is inexplicable. Similarly, Pepsi had a new Cricket World Cup commercial which I’d missed. Wasn’t easy to find it on YouTube . Even the ones that have an “online strategy” mostly have nothing more than a facebook page that is updated by a minion in a dark basement somewhere. CMOs need to wake up to the power of the web especially when location based services (LBS), group discounting (Groupon, Facebook Deals) and custom apps for smartphones are expected to gather steam in India. They need to do all this while keeping in mind how the experience for customers needs to be CONSISTENT – companies need to find their own “little monsters” and keep them engaged on the web!
Rounding off, The Gaga saga presents 3 important lessons to companies:
  • Look beyond “youth” as a homogeneous mass Far from being vague, Gaga is an unmistakably mainstream manufactured product singing for the freaks, the rebellious and the dispossessed, she is none of those and perhaps neither are they. But she dared to define her space and found appeal with millions. Can companies dare themselves to look beyond the obvious?
  • Go back to the basics Pick any paper or book on marketing and branding and you will see the emphasis on delivering a consistent brand experience across, ALL interactions with customers. Gaga retains a full fledged team that works to make sure all elements of a performance converge to create that aura of outrageousness that they are gunning for. When will companies work on their “performance”?
  • Online is where the action is moving toGaga’s 26,887,379 fans on FB have real time access to the SAME Gaga that they see in videos and on stage. Will companies wake up to realize that the web is not a fad? Their myopia reminds me of the alleged remark made by Thomas Watson who in 1943 as head of IBM is believed to have said’ “I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers”. We all know how that panned out..
If you have an opinion about youth brands and marketing or simply hate the monster balls on GAGA, SHOUT Rasta below or reach out @ thinkrasta@gmail.com

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “LADY GAGA – Lessons from the Youth BRAND Monster

  1. I appreciate the writeup – it is well researched. But a difference of result opinion – Consistency is more possible when the brand is a person – because the team focusses around the individual and their presence/representation. Very few product brands can replicate consistency across multiple locations, countries or continents due to the same reason that a celebrity can be consistent – human nature and behviour. Product service brands can control the visual aura/environments/related brand facets – human nature of the team facing the customer can never be controlled – it will mean an army of drones moving to the same beat. Does that mean nothing can be done.
    I believe – what Brands must do is find the right common trait in their employees to leverage on and make it the one shout which their customers interact with/sense during engagement.
    The other alternate is mechanise/automate engagement – Ikea is one such example – they have reduced human intervention to such an extent that customers respond and interact with the product not the rep.

    Posted by Sumit Handa | February 2, 2011, 8:31 am
  2. great thought sumit,even Gaga has a team with certain traits and clear purpose which is ofcourse driven by Gaga’s own commitment to outrageousness.
    However, once the position established and the right team put in place dont you think it should be easier with a product than a person. That because human nature itself is unpredictable and ever changing. Infact the greatness of Brand Gaga lies in the fact that inspite of being an actual person she ruthlessly lives the lie she’s created. Not may people can do that.
    Many artists paid with their lives because they werent able to live the image they’d established, often by accident. MJ for instance.

    With regards to the degree of automation/standardization/virtualization it surely can improve the situation but again depends greatly on product category and the team. That’s cuz these automations are also brought about by people and they definitely need to be one with the essence of the brand.

    For instance have you seen the OOHs of the TOI campaign “a day in the Life of India”, i thought they were very appealing, but if you go online (http://adayinlife.timesofindia.com/) which is of course the more automated channel the essence of the campaign is lost. Think that’s beacause a different person with a different understanding is responsible for this automation.

    Update: Gaga has hit 8mn twitter subscribers and has anounced to them that her perfume fragrance will have the sweet stench of “blood and semen”. Bang on.

    Also believe, Apple is a product brand that has successfully cracked this concern of consistency when “team facing the customer”. They’ve simply created fans within the audience, so customer faces customer and is that effective or what. Finding the brand’s monster fans and amplifying their voices is a thought.

    Posted by thinkrasta | February 6, 2011, 1:54 pm

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